Smoking: Not Just Harmful to Your Lungs and Heart
How Cigarettes Affect Nearly Every Part of Your Body
Cigarettes’ harmful claim to fame isn’t limited to your lungs, heart, or blood vessels. Did you know that smoking is the most preventable cause of death in the US? Nearly 450,000 deaths per year are associated with smoking. Smoking not only cuts lives short, but it greatly decreases quality of life.
Let's take a look at how smoking harms your body.
Smoking is a leading cause of many types of cancers. Exposure to the harsh chemicals in tobacco affect the all of the body's cells. Most cigarettes contain over 7,000 chemicals, including cyanide and formaldehyde. Nearly 70 of these chemicals are known to cause cancer.
The list of smoking-related cancers includes:
Bones, Joints, and Muscles
By reducing blood supply, smoking weakens both muscles and bones. It also slows the production of bone-forming cells and keeps your body from absorbing calcium. Here are some of the effects:
- Increased risk for bone fractures, which also take longer to heal
- Higher complication rate after surgeries
- Increased risk of overuse injuries, such as bursitis, and a greater chance of sprains
- Association with low back pain and rheumatoid arthritis, a progressive disease that causes joint destruction
Smoking hurts the digestive system, which means the body doesn’t get the nutrients it needs. Some digestive conditions which may be caused by smoking include:
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease and heartburn—Injury to the esophagus allows for reflux of stomach acids back into the esophagus, also increasing the risk of esophageal cancer
- Peptic ulcers—High acidity levels increase the risk for an infection that leads to open sores in the stomach or small intestine, causing pain and discomfort
- Crohn’s disease—Leads to inflammation in the lining of the intestines, causing abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, vomiting, and weight loss
- Altered liver function—Changes the way the liver handles drugs and alcohol, which can lead to liver disease
Smokers notice the change in their brains almost the minute they light up. Smoking quickly changes brain chemistry, affecting mood and often leading to addiction. Brain chemistry changes, as well as decreased blood flow, increase the risk for:
Smokers are at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Here are a few of smoking’s other effects:
- Reduced sense of smell and taste
- Premature skin aging from reduced blood flow and vitamins
- Increased risk for gum and tooth disease
- Increased risk for cloudy lens in the eye, called cataract, a leading cause of blindness
- Increased risk for erectile dysfunction, infertility, and problems during pregnancy and delivery
- In babies of smoking mothers—increased risk for low birth weight, asthma and reduced lung function, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and behavior problems
- Menopause at an earlier age and an increased number of menopausal symptoms
And Now for the Good News
The benefits of quitting begin almost immediately. Your heart rate and blood pressure drop within minutes. Your circulation and breathing improve within weeks. And, among other improvements, your risk of stroke much lower after 5 years of quitting. Although it’s best to quit when you’re younger, you can benefit at any age.
American Cancer Society
American Lung Association
Bjartveit K and Tverdal A. Health consequences of smoking 1–4 cigarettes per day. Tobacco Control. 2005;14(5):315-320. JAMA Psychiatry. 2013 Sep;70(9):956-63.
Gaysina D, et al. Maternal smoking during pregnancy and offspring conduct problems: evidence from 3 independent genetically sensitive research designs.
Health effects of cigarette smoking. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/health_effects/effects_cig_smoking. Updated May 15, 2017. Accessed August 3, 2017.
How to quit smoking or smokeless tobacco. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/healthy/stay-away-from-tobacco/guide-quitting-smoking.html. Accessed August 3, 2017.
Is any type of smoking safe? American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/tobacco-and-cancer/is-any-type-of-smoking-safe.html. Updated November 13, 2015. Accessed August 3, 2017.
Smoking. American Diabetes Association website. Available at: http://www.diabetes.org/are-you-at-risk/lower-your-risk/smoking.html. Updated March 21, 2017. Accessed August 3, 2017.
Smoking & depression. Smokefree website. Available at: https://smokefree.gov/challenges-when-quitting/mood-management/smoking-depression. Accessed August 3, 2017.
Smoking and musculoskeletal health. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00192. Updated May 2010. Accessed August 3, 2017.
Smoking and the digestive system. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/smoking-digestive-system. Updated September 14, 2013. Accessed August 3, 2017.
Last reviewed August 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP Last Updated: 8/15/2017